Blog Tour: Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

Book Review: Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

Fiction: Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

Blog Tour: November 17, 2023


Under the Tamarind Tree is a beautiful novel full of heart, full of tragedy, and full of hope. It follows one woman, Rozee, at two points in her life. As a young woman, she had a small group of friends who were all very close. As an octogenarian, retired after years as a pediatrician, Rozee is contacted by one of those friends. Her story, her secrets, her passions also carry with them the story of Pakistan on a very personal and intimate level.


In high school history we learned the story of India and Pakistan during one unit of World History. I’m pretty sure our lesson went something like this: the British Raj ruled the subcontinent for many years until Gandhi came and chased them out on his bare feet wearing a dhoti, then they left and two countries started and now they both have nuclear weapons so that’s not great. Time for lunch. I loved my history classes and my history teachers, but in the 1980s our history classes did not go far beyond Europe and the US. Women and POCs were mentioned in passing, but the history we learned was not, shall we say, inclusive.


What I did not learn until decades later was the story of the Partition, the mobs that murdered families and burned villages, the desperate flight of Muslims into Pakistan and of Hindus into India (not to mention the other sects and populations caught up in the violence). Pakistan and India were born in blood and violence. Families were torn apart, people lost everything, sleepy cities were turned into metropolises overnight without any of the infrastructure needed to support the influx of refugees. The British were awful while they were there, but arguably worse when they left.


Rozee and her friends were part of that history. Rozee’s family escaped from Delhi to Karachi. Only one of the four of them was a native of Karachi. All of them, though, bear the burden of loss and responsibility. Rozee’s brother was killed during their escape, and she holds herself responsible both for his death and for fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. Haaris has been groomed to take over his family’s business, which does not allow for the possibility of falling in love with someone not part of the Pakistani elite. Their other friends also carry the hopes and expectations of their families. That is not a burden that teenagers or young people in their 20s should have to bear.


Secrets and tragedies flow from their last time together as a group, and decades later Haaris reaches out again to Rozee. His granddaughter, an American girl, is visiting family in Karachi. She has just lost her brother in a tragic accident. Haaris believes that because of Rozee’s own history with losing a brother, she might be a valuable resource for his granddaughter. Rozee reluctantly agrees, though she suspects that Haaris has another reason for involving her, a reason that goes back to those secrets and tragedies of their youth.


I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. What I will say is that this is one of the best books I have read this year. Nigar Alam’s prose is lyrical. She paints Karachi in vibrant colors. The people represent various strata in Pakistani society, and without using the word “caste” they are typically as locked in to the trajectory set by their birth without hope or expectation of transcending or deviating from that. Rozee herself makes choices that compromise her values because of the requirements of family.


I was left at the end wondering at the power of assumed guilt. Rozee was a child, fleeing with her parents from mob violence. Men with spears and torches murdered her brother. Yet she felt the weight of his death for the rest of her life, making choice after choice to try to live up to his standard, to realize his dreams, to care for her family in the way he would have been expected to. I feel like that is a theme universal to the human condition. We all are trying to find out where we belong, how we fit into a world that was rolling along before we arrived and will continue on after we are gone. It’s hard enough to do that without trying to live someone else’s life as well.


Our thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things for our copy of Under the Tamarind Tree, provided so we could review it for this blog tour. The opinions here are solely those of Scintilla. For other perspectives, check out the other bloggers on this tour.


Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

Book Review: Under the Tamarind Tree, Nigar Alam

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